Believe it or not, but being a scientist leaves you with quite a few career choices in both science-related and unrelated fields.
You do want to choose carefully, because moving back into a field that you previously left definitely has some challenges. However, in some cases, it can work to your advantage as well, since you will likely have acquired skills that are both valuable and rare, once you return.
When I accepted a position as a scientific recruiter after I completed my postdoc, it was for a few different reasons.
First of all, I knew I did not want to stay in the Academic setting. Secondly, I was moving to an area with very little biotech and pharma, and had gotten no responses from any of the applications I had sent out. Lastly, after hearing about recruiting, it sounded like something that I would truly enjoy.
Staying on the sidelines of science, using my scientific background to help other scientists get jobs, sounded very fulfilling. All while making a lot of money.
While I absolutely loved parts of being a recruiter, and the process of helping someone find their dream job was an amazing experience, the other side of the coin wasn’t so shiny.
Most of the job openings we were working on required years of industry experience, leaving me unable to help most of the candidates that were really in need of the help. In addition, recruiting had an air of cut-throat competition within your own team that I did not enjoy.
I enjoy some honest competition, but when you work on commission and your candidate gets a job over your colleague’s candidate, that means that you get paid and your colleague doesn’t. This can easily lead to backstabbing, and pressuring people to take jobs externally. So, if you have a recruiter that you like and trust, be a little extra nice to them. It is not an easy job if you want to do it right, and it is not always as lucrative as most people think.
After almost two years as a recruiter, I decided to make the move back to science, and it wasn’t that easy.
I sent out quite a few applications and got no responses. Then suddenly, I had interviews with two companies. One of them was for a biotech technical sales position. I had unique experience for this position since I had both a science background, and had been in a sales-related field.
The other position was a medical writing position. Although I had limited writing experience, besides grants and research papers, I was able to use the transferable skills that I had learned as a recruiter.
During that time, just by talking to candidates, I learned a tremendous amount about how biotech and pharma work, about all the different disciplines, from vaccine development, to scientific packaging, to oncology, and all the different stages of drug development, from early discovery to manufacturing. In addition, I knew how to work in a fast-paced environment where ultimately, the harder you work, the more you get out of it.
I am very happy to be back in a science field, but because I ventured outside of that area for a while, I have a very different perspective, and a new appreciation of my science colleagues.